Fashion shows are the most exciting part of being a makeup artist (especially during Fashion Week). It’s a working environment all about creativity, community, and collaboration, plus it allows artists to get a first look at upcoming trends and techniques. In my experience, as a key designer backstage at NYFW for over 17 seasons, what you keep in your kit is integral to being successful. So whether you’re the key or an assistant on the team, you want to be prepared for—and enjoy—every professional situation.
The experience of being backstage as part of a team is a critical part of building your network and bringing your career to the next level. The ability to lead and design shows can help separate you from other artists. For non-pros, these tips can help you prepare for when you’re on the go or simply need to pare down your makeup stash. I typically share specific color products, but here, I’m focusing on the basic kit composition that’ll help get you through working backstage at a show.
This cult favorite works great on all skin types—even sensitive. It’s a cleanser, toner, and moisturizer in one, and celebrities and models alike expect to see it in your kit. Mix it with any cream foundation for a flawless complexion. It helps make all of your full coverage products look perfect.
A staple in every artist’s kit, Bioderma’s gentle remover can accomplish quick clean-ups between shows or little fixes without messing up the rest of the face. It’s a makeup artist must, and models seek it out, too after seeing how great it is.
While I’m not a fan of most disposable wipes because of the residue they leave behind, Alcone’s are great for taking off even the toughest waterproof products and gentle enough for the most sensitive skin. Another bonus: each wipe comes packaged individually, so you can leave a few behind for a model or hand them out without the worry of wasting too many of your precious supplies.
Cream foundations and concealers are the most versatile in the business. You can apply them sheer or build them up for full coverage with beautiful results. A multi-shade palette is easy to carry and allows you to customize your application by combining different colors and textures, while maintaining a super-simple set up backstage. Some of my favorites are Bobbi Brown BBU Palette, RCMA VK Palettes #10 and #11, and Graftobian HD Glamour Creme Super Foundation Palette. Each allows for a full, customizable range of colors that look natural like skin, even with complete coverage. Perfect for the runway and the photographs that will be taken all day long.
A great neutral shadow palette can pull double duty for shaping the eyes and sculpting the entire face. Be sure to have your basic shades in taupes, browns, and grays, as well as great highlight shadows, and of course black and white. The Viseart Neutral Basic Eyeshadow Palette is perfect for contour and the matte texture is unmatched; it’s a tried-and-true artist favorite.
With powder, you don’t need to overdo it. Carrying a bunch of powder products just isn’t necessary. For backstage, a transparent powder that works on many skin tones is exactly what you need. I suggest a traditional talc formula and a silica-based powder for controlling shine and doing touch-ups. Try Make Up For Ever Super Matte Loose Powder in #0 Ivory or Ben Nye Neutral Set for setting foundation into place. You should also have a compact powder, like Make Up For Ever HD Pressed Powder or Inglot Cosmetics Mattifying Loose Powder 3s, for doing touch-ups at line up, right before models hit the stage.
While the key artist or sponsor brand will typically provide specific colors for the look during a show, they won’t always offer mascara, because they assume artists will have some on hand. I recommend keeping three different types in your kit: a clear, a brown, and a bold black. With these, you can handle any challenge—including male grooming. With mascara, I’m a true believer that you can find formulas you’ll love without breaking the bank. Some of my favorite drugstore finds are Covergirl Lashblast and L’Oreal Voluminous.
Don’t forget the importance of exemplary hygiene when you’re working backstage. Stocking up on disposable applicators and touch-up tools is a great way to separate yourself from the pack of assistants. Mascara wands, lip applicators, cotton swabs, tissues, and wedge sponges will keep you from cross-contaminating product, and protect your reputation and your model.
A few other life-saving items I look for backstage or expect my assistants to have on hand: eyelash glue, hand sanitizer, a palette for mixing (check out Paw Palette), spatulas, breath mints, brush cleaner, scissors, eyelash curler, and tweezers. These are all the little—but essential—things you should always have in your kit.
Read every installment in James Vincent’s Building Your Kit series here! Prices approximate and may vary.
As Director of Artistry for The Makeup Show, The Powder Group and On Makeup Magazine, makeup artist James Vincent has touched every facet of the industry with his talent. With specialties in film and theatre, television and celebrity work, editorial and runway work, James is foremast a passionate educator, training for brands such as MAC, Stila, CNN and Lancome. He continues to inspire the next wave of artists with his beauty expertise. Follow James on Twitter @JVincentmakeup.